Last month a cyclist died in an accident on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby thinks the solution is to get bikes off the road, but his editorial, “Urban Roads Aren’t Meant for Bicycles” is just a pile of non sequiturs and whining. Because logic and recommendations are missing from his piece, I’ll have to supply them.
His first fallacy is that people who ride on Boston city streets do so because they’re out for fun:
THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM [is] a splendid venue for cyclists, with miles of meandering paths and gorgeous views of Boston. . . . If you want to ride a bicycle in Boston, you’ve got plenty of great places to do it. Massachusetts Avenue during business hours shouldn’t be one of them. . . . Bicycles can be an enjoyable, even exhilarating, way to get around. So can horses, skis, and roller skates.
No, we’re actually trying to get to school and work, just like you.
Jacoby’s central point is that cars and bicycles don’t belong on the same roads, a fact that he backs up with spurious statistics.
Busy thoroughfares aren’t meant for cyclists. They are meant for the cars, trucks, and buses that transport the vast majority of people moving through the nation’s cities. Those vehicles weigh thousands of pounds, operate at 300-plus horsepower, and are indispensable to the economic and social well-being of virtually every American community. . . . Adding [bicycles] to the flow of motorized traffic on roads that already tend to be too clogged, however, is irresponsible and dangerous.
According to the latest Census Bureau data, more than 122 million people commute each day by car, truck, or van. Fewer than 900,000 bike to work. Do the math: For every cyclist pedaling to or from work, there are 136 drivers.
Okay, Mr. Jacoby, let me help you with that math. Unlike the bicycles, many car commuters are in rural or suburban areas, not city streets. Many of those commuters are on major highways, where cars go 60 miles per hour and bicycles are absent. In fact, two out every 100 Boston commuters is on a bicycle, and 44% say it’s because that’s their best option for commuting, a fact that took me 90 seconds of Googling to find out. Check out the bike racks at any local company, university, or transit stop and you’ll see dozens or hundreds of parked bikes.
There are fewer bicycles than cars. Is that a reason to demonize the bicyclists? There aren’t that many people with wheelchairs, either, so why do we make it easy for them with curb cuts? Yesterday a couple of motorcycles recklessly cut me off on Storrow Drive. So let’s make motorcycles illegal!
Unless you want an outright ban on cyclists, you’ll find yourself sharing the road with them. “Bicycles don’t belong on roads” may be fun to say, but solves nothing.
Then there’s the “bikers don’t pay” argument:
[C]yclists pay no taxes, don’t have to be insured, undergo no safety inspections, and needn’t register their vehicles. They don’t have to carry an operator’s license, and aren’t required to pass a written or a road test in order to pedal in the streets.
Those gas taxes, insurance, and inspection costs are because cars and trucks beat up the roads, get involved in expensive accidents, and are unsafe if not maintained. Bikes don’t have nearly these costs. But if you’re argument is that bikers should pay, go ahead and tax them. That’s not an argument to get them off the road.
I agree something has to change. I also believe that both bikes and cars behave irresponsibly and cause accidents. Jacoby appears to want to make bikes on streets illegal, but that’s not an option.
In 40 years of commuting by bicycle, I’ve never been injured and never had a serious accident. The reason is that I’m totally paranoid and I behave in a predictable way so that I don’t surprise the cars. This is not courtesy — it’s common sense when any accident could very easily leave you dead or crippled.
What we need are some new rules.
New Rules For Cyclists
Unlike Jeff Jacoby, my new rules for cyclists that could actually improve things:
- Police should ticket bike riders that do not obey traffic laws. (Jacoby asks “have you ever seen a cop ticket a cyclist?” Yes, I have. I’d like to see more.) Enforcement will change behavior, as it does with drivers.
- Cyclists who ride in the city should pay $40 a year for a license sticker. Municipalities should use these funds for enforcement, bike lanes, and stolen bike recovery efforts. Cyclists with multiple tickets should lose their license.
- Riding on streets with earbuds, or without a helmet, should be illegal. I can’t count the number of times my ears have told me that a car is coming up behind me.
- The law should require flashing lights on all bikes at night, front and rear.
- Cyclists should not exceed 19 miles per hour on public bike paths. The Minuteman Bikeway is not Daytona; Walkers and people with strollers have a right to it, too.
- Position yourself carefully at turns. Make right turns close to the curb. For left turns, wait in line behind a car in the left lane, or on the right edge of a left-turn-only lane. At intersections, bikes going straight are at risk from both left and right turns. (A truck turning right killed the woman on Mass. Ave.)
- Bikers should wear bright colors, ride predictably, check their tires and brakes at least once a week, and detour to avoid traffic circles. If you wear forest green, swerve, and don’t maintain your brakes, you’re a lot more likely to die.
New Rules For Cars
For fewer cyclists to die, rules for cars have to change as well.
- The bike lane is not a passing lane or a parking lane. Police should enforce laws against driving and parking in bike lanes. The bike lane, like the sidewalk, is not for cars.
- Stop looking at your smartphone. Not just while moving, but while stopped at a light or in a line of cars. We may need to cross in front of you. The startled moment when you look up and put your foot on the gas, that’s when you may hear that horrible crunching sound.
- If you run over a cyclist, expect to be prosecuted. Let’s take a few reckless drivers to court.
- Cyclists have a right to get where they’re going, too. You’re annoyed at the other drivers and us. That’s fine. We’re all just trying to get on with our day.